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Do your pictures tend to elicit more "ho-hums" than "a-has"? One reason may have to do with the quality of light. In short, fine light adds visual impact. When planning workshops and our own personal outings, I think about the light just as much as I do about the subject.
Here's a can't-miss tip if you love photographing city skylines: Shoot at twilight. Often overlooked, dusk just may be the most captivating time of day.
Far too many people pack up and take off right after sunset. If this sounds familiar, we urge you to stay put and wait. Dedicated twilight shooters consider the sun dropping below the horizon as the beginning, not the end, of the evening's color performance. At twilight, the twinkling city lights transform buildings and streets into dynamic mixtures of color. The sky turns an amazing blue, if not purple, and makes a wonderful background to the illuminated buildings. Add rain-slick streets or an adjacent body of water, and the neon lights create sparkling reflections. Simply put, cityscapes come alive in the evening.
Other scenes look great at twilight too, from villages to monuments, from colorful car tail lights to dazzling carnival rides. Landscapes, too, take on a dream-like aura. At the ocean, the end of the day can mean a soft-and-sensuous surf during the long exposures in low light.
This beautiful transition between day and night usually lasts only minutes. As with sunset or sunrise photography, twilight requires scouting, planning and working quickly in order to catch the magic.
• When twilight is at its peak, by the way, the exposure values between sky and land are similar, often making for successful overall metering. Otherwise, if the sky is a rich color, just point the camera upward, fill the viewfinder with the sky, and take a meter reading. Shoot in Manual, or if your camera is set for an auto-exposure mode, then either hold the shutter button halfway down or use exposure lock. However you do it, you'll need to recompose and shoot with those sky settings. Also, you can check your LCD monitor and histogram and if necessary, adjust the exposure compensation.
• Because of the long exposures low light demands, you'll need a tripod or other sturdy camera support.
• A remote cable release or similar accessory is advisable to keep your hand off the camera and prevent possible jiggling of the camera.
By the way, many of the top online instructors at BetterPhoto.com have written on the subject. Check out the blogs by:
• Deborah Sandidge - Twilight: Digital Night Photography Tips
• Jim Zuckerman - Shooting at Twilight